About the Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the sixteenth century. However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape, thanks to German protestant pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881). Along with Wichern’s wreath came the tradition of lighting candles during the Advent worship services.
The wreath consisted of a large wooden ring (made from an old cartwheel) with twenty small red candles and four large white candles. The small red candles were lit during the week, the white candles on Sundays.
While the form of the Advent wreath changed over time, the tradition of lighting candles during Advent spread throughout Germany and beyond Lutheranism. The tradition of the Advent wreath expanded into the western Church and took hold in the United States during the 1930s.
Advent wreaths are circular, representing God’s infinite love and are usually made of evergreen leaves, expressing the hope of eternal life Jesus brings.
Within the wreath, four prominent candles represent the four weeks of the Advent season.
Collectively, the candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus. The colors of the candles have their significance. In the Western Christian church, violet is the historic liturgical color for three of the four Sundays of Advent. Rose is the liturgical color for the third Sunday of Advent.
The rose candle, lit on what is known as Gaudete Sunday—from the Latin meaning “rejoice, ye”—represents joy. White is traditionally chosen for the Christ candle to represent the liturgical color for Christmas.
Traditionally, the candles stand for the Christian truths of hope (week one), peace (week two), joy (week three), and love (week four). The centerpiece of the wreath is a white candle, the Christ candle, to represent the arrival of Christmastide.
Lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the Christ candle is the fitting completion of Advent.
Debora Ragland Buerk
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Excerpt from Wondrous Light © 2021 by Selah Center.